Sweeter Than Life
Like pancakes and garlic—and 17-year-old Wendy’s family—some things aren’t meant to be blended. When her six-year-old stepbrother bursts into her room and destroys her English project, it doesn’t matter that he has severe autism. Her father and his wife blame Wendy. Her mother’s recent remarriage means that the one place she could escape to is now a shared bedroom with a hostile stepsister. Wendy gets a job after school to escape her families and earn money for college. She meets Sam and falls in love for the first time. Sam gives her the acceptance she needs and he becomes Wendy’s refuge—until she discovers he has been keeping a dangerous secret. When trouble strikes, Sam lashes out at Wendy, and his reckless fury causes a tragedy for which Wendy feels responsible. Is the family she rejected the only thing that can save her?
Sometimes your refuge can be worse than what you’re running from.
Writers are often advised to write about what they know. I would add my own advice—you know more than you think, and you are always learning. One day while going through my old stories, I came across one I’d written as a teenager. It had a timeless premise (what happens when your boyfriend/girlfriend is your whole world and the world collapses?) but not enough story to make a reader drop everything and sit down with the book.
I asked myself, “What do I know now, and care about now, that would make this a real story and these characters real people?”
It was 2012, and I was working for an agency that supports children and adults with special needs. I realized, after reading widely in YA, that Autism Spectrum Disorder—diagnosed then in approximately 1 in 80 children in the U.S.—was not adequately represented in young people’s literature (fortunately, this is changing). What would a teen do if her parents expected her to be compassionate and understanding with a sibling with special needs, but refused to help her or to acknowledge her feelings as well? If she met a boy who encouraged her and loved her unconditionally, he would naturally become her safe haven.
But what if he wasn’t so safe?
The result was my debut novel, Sweeter Than Life. It was accepted for publication in June 2013 and released in July 2015. The publisher was unable to meet several terms of the contract, however, and the book was removed from circulation and the rights returned to me in September 2015.
I re-released Sweeter Than Life on November 17, 2021.
And at Spine Bookstore and Café in St. Louis.